Tragedy in finale twists 'Dexter'

"I thought I could change what I am. Keep my family safe. But it doesn't matter what I do, what I choose. I'm what's wrong. This is fate."

Those were Dexter Morgan's last words to the viewer in the jaw-dropping fourth season finale of "Dexter." Poor Dexter had danced with his biggest foe and allowed himself the possibility of becoming a better man.

Instead, the truth revealed itself in his wife's pool of blood: Dexter Morgan can't be anyone but who he is.

The shocking twist — Rita's death and what it means for Dexter — places Showtime's highest-rated series at a compelling crossroads for its fifth season premiere, at 9 tonight. Are viewers to accept that Dexter is a hopeless sociopath/avenging angel who will never be as human as we'd like him to be? Or will the tragedy prove transformational?

"The rug is completely pulled out from under him," said Michael C. Hall, who has received three Emmy nominations for his portrayal of Dexter. "And all bets are off at that point."

Since viewers first met the blood-spatter analyst and serial killer of serial killers, Dexter has insisted that the capacity to have emotions eludes him, even though much of last season he struggled to counter his "darkness" by being a loving husband, dad and brother.

Dexter also spent last season painstakingly stalking fellow serial killer Trinity (John Lithgow). After killing Trinity, Dexter celebrated in the moonlight, fantasizing of a life with Rita (Julie Benz) and their three children without his "dark passenger" (as he refers to the darker side of himself). But when he arrived home, he found that he had been outplayed — Trinity had murdered Rita before Dexter got to him, leaving all hopes for a bloodless future dashed.

The scene being shot between Hall, guest star Julia Stiles, and the young Christina Robinson, who plays Rita's daughter, Astor, doesn't give away much. Astor is angry with her stepfather; Dexter, as usual, is clueless; and Lumen (Stiles) seems concerned. To reveal details of Stiles' first TV role would ruin a surprise that comes early in the season.

After weighing several plot lines, the writers decided to begin the season where the story concluded, with Dexter's gruesome discovery.

"We felt there was an emotional residue that needed to be dealt with in the wake of the death," Manuel Coto said. "And to skate past that would be to rob the audience of Dexter's reactions to what happened and how he gets his life back together."

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